This post is a continuation of our Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology series. To see the complete series please click here.
Setting the Stage
In 1846 archaeologist Henry Layard led a dig of a site in modern day Iraq named Kalhu. Layard, who also discovered #10 on our list, was fast becoming one of the world’s leading experts on the ancient Assyrians. Kalhu was once the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Assyria was the leading world-power for a few hundred years (roughly 900-650BC). Many of the people and events in the Old Testament took place during this time of history.
Kalhu, also known as Nimrud, is located south of Nineveh on the river Tigris. The city covered an area of around 16 square miles. The ruins of the city are located only 19 miles southeast of current-day Mosul.
Layard discovered something in Kalhu shocking the archaeological world. Kalhu’s discovery centered on an Assyrian king named Shalmaneser III. You’ve probably never heard of King Shalmaneser III. He ruled Assyria from 859-824 BC. His long reign of 35 years consisted of constant military campaigns against eastern tribes such as the Babylonians, the nations Mesopotamia, Syria, etc…
Things are getting Interesting
In 853BC a coalition was formed to try to kick Shalmaneser’s buttocks. The coalition consisted of some leading kingdoms of the time. The Kurkh Monolith, which is an amazing archaeological discovery in its own right, explains the coalition fighting against Shalmaneser. The Kurkh Monolith lists the coalition as the kingdoms of Egypt, Hamath, Arvand, the Ammonites, “Ahab of Israel” and other neighboring states, under the leadership of king Hadadezer of Damascus. The coalition in 853BC defeats Shalmaneser at the Battle of Qarqar. Shalmaneser loses the battle but is determined to win the overall war.
Ahab and Jezebel
Did you catch one of those coalition names? Yes, I’m talking about, “Ahab of Israel.” Ahab and Jezebel are the Bonnie and Clyde of the Old Testament. No married couple did more to lead people away from God than Jezebel and Ahab. Their pathetic exploits take up a surprisingly large portion of the Old Testament. 1 Kings 16 through 2 Kings 10 describe their lives.
God raises up several people to prophecy against and destroy the evil works of Ahab and Jezebel. One of the greatest prophets in the Bible, Elijah, spends his entire prophetic career speaking against Ahab and Jezebel. The Kurkh Monolith confirms the reign of Ahab and also his coalition with the Syrian king Hadadezer of Damascus.
Enter Jehu on the Scene
God raises up a man who would absolutely destroy the royal line of Ahab. In 2 Kings 9 Jehu is anointed the new king of Israel. God then uses Jehu to destroy the evil kings of Israel and Judah. Jehu drives his chariot to a city named Jezreel. 2 Kings 9:30 takes it from here, “When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it. And she painted her eyes and adorned her head and looked out of the window. And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?” And he lifted up his face to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who? “Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down. And some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled on her.”
Yes, I admit, the previous verse paints a grotesque scene. If you feel any sympathy for Jezebel you have wasted your sympathy. She was evil to the core. If you read the accounts in 1 and 2 Kings you will see what I mean. She makes people like Osama Bin Laden look like members of the junior varsity team of evil leadership.
As Henry Layard’s team, in 1846, excavated the sandy world of Kahu they encountered a large black object taking them quickly back to the time of Shalmaneser III, Ahab and Jehu. The large black object is known as an obelisk. The word obelisk simply refers to the shape of the object. 21st century Americans are most familiar with a white obelisk known as the Washington monument. This black obelisk is not as big as the Washington monument, it’s only 6 feet tall, but for an archaeological find in the middle of a desert…a black carved object 6 feet tall is a substantial discovery.
We know the obelisk was erected as a public monument in 825 BC at a time of civil war. The relief sculptures surrounding all sides of the obelisk glorify the military achievements of King Shalmaneser III and his chief minister. The king thought the obelisk would help inspire the people toward greater national patriotism and unity thereby helping to end the civil war. The Obelisk lists military campaigns of thirty-one years and the tribute they exacted from their neighbours: including camels, monkeys, an elephant and a rhinoceros. Assyrian kings often collected exotic animals and plants as an expression of their power.
The obelisk contains five different scenes on five different rows. Each row depicts the tribute of a foreign king. A tribute would usually entail a foreign king coming before Shalmaneser and bowing down before him showing Shalmaneser to be the ultimate king of his land.
Guess what? The second row of pictures on the Obelisk depicts the tribute of one particular king whom we know. When the ancient Assyrian Cuneiform inscription was translated the biblical world was shocked. The inscription reads, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.”
- This is the ONLY, to my knowledge, contemporary artistic depiction of anyone mentioned in the Bible. What do I mean by contemporary? This is the only artistic depiction of someone in the Bible done by a person who actually lived during the same time. The Obelisk you see before you was created while Jehu was still the king sitting on his throne in Israel. The people knew what Jehu looked like. History outside of the Bible tells us Jehu and Shalmaneser were kings at the same time. When the Obelisk was created Jehu still had 10 years left of his reign in Israel.
- The black obelisk fully supports every detail of the Bible. It makes perfect sense for Jehu to be paying tribute to Shalmaneser. Here are some reasons:
- Jehu was the mortal enemy of Ahab. Who was one of Ahab’s allies? Hadadezer the king of Damascus. It would be natural for the king of Damascus to hate Jehu. A man named Hazael assassinated Hadadezer and became the new king of Damascus. We learn from 2 Kings 10:32, “In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel.” Jehu was being routed by Hazael, he needed some help to try to keep the country alive.
- You may be thinking, “Why in the world would a king of Israel, especially someone like Jehu who was being used by God in powerful ways, ever pay tribute to the King of Assyria?” Why didn’t Jehu just pray to God and allow God to rescue him from Hazael? We learn from 2 Kings 10:31, “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.” Jehu had some amazing moments being zealous for God, but had other times in his reign when he wasn’t walking with God. It would make perfect sense for Jehu, instead of praying, to be looking for the Assyrian King to rescue him from King Hazael.
- Don’t forget the coalition defeating Shalmaneser at the battle of Qarqar in 853BC. Shalmaneser would have never forgotten that battle. Two of the people in that coalition: the king of Damascus and Ahab. Jehu and Shalmaneser shared common enemies. It would be natural for Shalmaneser and Jehu to join forces.
The black obelisk depicting Jehu’s tribute to Shalmaneser is such an amazing archaeological discovery. We are brought right into the time frame of the 9th century BC. The discovery provides such rich evidence for the accuracy of many events mentioned in 1st and 2nd Kings. The cherry on the top from the discovery is being able to see the real life depiction of one of the important kings of Israel.
As we continue down our Top Ten list the significance of our discoveries continue to grow. What do you think of the discovery? Feel free to join the conversation by commenting on this discovery.